Tensions are building between officials and the families of those lost aboard the Eastern Star, a cruise ship that capsized in the Yangtze River last Monday night amid stormy weather with 456 people on board.
Authorities have kept a tight grip on information, leaving many relatives in the dark about when they can see their family members’ bodies and lay them to rest, the Wall Street Journal reported.
As of Sunday afternoon, 432 bodies had been retrieved and 10 people were unaccounted for, government officials said. The last of 14 survivors was found on Tuesday.
Officials cited public health concerns and the logistics of dealing with so many bodies as reasons for not letting the relatives see the dead, the newspaper said.
The remains are being stored in funeral facilities in four separate counties, having overwhelmed the capacity of the sole funeral parlor in Jianli, Hubei province, the town closest to the site of the disaster.
In recent days, relatives have confronted officials in meetings, at checkpoints outside the funeral parlor and, in one case, at a news conference to demand to see the bodies of their family members.
A woman barged into a media briefing on Friday, yelling at officials and reporters that relatives be allowed to see the remains of their loved ones before cremation.
On Sunday, the seventh day since the accident and the traditional time to mourn the dead’s passing, family members made their way in small groups to the river bank where the salvaged Eastern Star is anchored to pay their respects.
A mass visit was not allowed by officials, who cited safety concerns.
At an official mourning ceremony—held without the family members—roughly 500 rescue workers, navy and paramilitary personnel observed three minutes of silence while vessels sounded their horns.
Authorities said they are dealing with the dead and the families with sensitivity.
Most of the bodies have been retrieved since Friday when the capsized ship was righted and crews of emergency workers in white antibacterial suits boarded the Eastern Star, searching for remains and disinfecting the ship—a process that officials say is necessary to prevent the spread of disease.
“We are strengthening work on the preservation and handling of victims’ remains, so as to lay them to rest and give comfort to their kin,” Zhang Shifeng, an official with the Civil Affairs Ministry, was quoted as saying.
He said detailed plans have been made for identification and for funeral services, including the retrieval of DNA samples and storage of bodies in refrigerated coffins.
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